Embarkation: We took the 10:45 shuttle from our hotel to the cruise terminal. At the cruise terminal entrance, we were held up for a moment by the sheriff's department. Someone had apparently violated perimeter security somewhere, and there were a lot of flashing lights and speeding vehicles. The delay didn't last more than 10 minutes, and we were soon at our ship.
Our shuttle driver got the luggage of all the passengers out and we moved it to the curb for the porters. They loaded it onto carts, we took our roll-ons and carry ons, and we went through the boarding procedures somewhat painlessly. It wasn't speedy, with a rather lengthy wait until our boarding group was called, but it wasn't undue. We walked onto the ship and were in our cabin by 12:30. Yes, the cabins were ready that quickly!
Our checked luggage was delivered to our room by 3:30 PM, even including the two fridge-packs of soft drinks for DW.
Contrary to previous reports about conditions on Zuiderdam, we observed the ship to be in excellent shape and in a constant state of cleaning and polishing.
The Explorations library, the daily Team Trivia, and the podcast art tour. Beyond that, . . .
We ate almost exclusively in the MDR. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were a wonderful treat and much calmer and quieter than the Lido.
We ate dinner once in the Pinnacle, and we found the food to be quite tasty but not appreciably better than the MDR. Certainly not worth the surcharge, in the opinion of the four of us. Our waiter was surly and impatient and absent a lot; we made sure to get his name for our end-of-cruise evaluation.
Our only room-service meal, a breakfast, was delivered on time and exactly as we had ordered.
Our MDR staff were funny and attentive and quite good at their craft. The wine steward was informative and knowledgable. We saw her at other times and locations during our cruise, and she always was personable and engaging.
One good magician, one good musical entertainer, one better-than-civic-theater song and dance routine. Beyond that, don't ask.
Our traveling companions, veterans of Royal Caribbean, said that they had never experienced such excellent and attentive service. MDR staff, room staff, bar staff, front office staff - any crew member we encountered was attentive and responsive and personable.
If you go to Aruba for anything other than the beaches, you'll be disappointed. We went on the Town and Country trip. They tried hard, but there's just not much to see.
The guide on our Tortuguero Canals excursion was interesting and informative. He brought samples of flowers and fruits onto our bus to help fill in the time from one location to another.
The highlight of this trip of course was the Panama Canal; the other port stops are mildly interesting, but would not be able to justify a cruise on their own.
The cruise description called for "Cruising Gatun Lake and Panama Canal". Well, there was no "cruising" on the lake. We moved into position from the lock, sat in one spot for a while, then returned back through the same lock.
This was our third HAL cruise, and we continue to be enthusiastic fans. This was a tremendous experience and met all our expectations. Zuiderdam was - for us - so much better than others have written. I'd be interested to hear from others on our cruise.